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Marketing & Competing

Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1995

strategic approach can minimize delays.

Do Your Homework

Early public opinion research is key to successful campaigns to site industrial and waste facilities. A poll can help you evaluate public sentiment along the proposed route that could play a role in challenging your line. It can also help you decide how to explain why you're building the line, especially if it won't benefit local residences.

Some companies are tempted to skip any kind of research. They figure they know their communities well enough to spend that money on something else. But electric power providers don't know what they don't know. The risk of not knowing is too great.

Seize the Initiative

As soon as a transmission line siting project goes public, the clock starts counting down the time you have to make your case. Seldom does more than one month pass before opposition coalesces and activists begin complaining to elected officials and filing suit in court (em with the news media chronicling every development. The key point here: You must seize the initiative and do everything you can to set the agenda for the inevitable debate. Communicating with potential allies from the start and helping prepare them for criticism from opponents is essential.

Most local residents will probably keep an open mind about a new transmission line. But if they hear first from opponents, especially "green consumers" who reject any type of economic development, your campaign may be lost before it really gets moving. Being first is necessary to build the momentum that many projects need to endure lengthy siting battles.

Open Up Prudently

Some utilities (em accustomed to the regulatory compact with customers, local governments, and state commissioners (em might consider it politically correct to conduct completely open public proceedings. Unless local regulations require an open-book approach, this tactic invites defeat by giving critics a platform to air their emotionally charged, opposing views.

A better approach is to enlist local leaders and give them a more practical means of communicating with you, such as a community advisory panel. Or you could hold a series of small open-houses to connect concerned citizens with company representatives. Another option would be to conduct a direct mail campaign and spell out concisely why the new transmission line needs to be built.

What's in it for the Locals?

If a utility tried to build a large transmission line through your community, wouldn't you expect the local leaders to rise up and ask: What's in it for us? If they don't ask, you can bet someone else will.

If you cannot prove the line is needed to maintain local service, you may need to offer electricity discounts to customers in the affected area. If that wipes out the economics, you may need to include these kinds of expenses when estimating the cost of building a new line.

Beyond this lie the siting pitfalls that await naive managements unaware of the debate that rages over the fairness of siting lines in low-income or minority neighborhoods. "Environmental justice" is the new rallying cry of intervenor groups. These groups will